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Posted 26 Mar 2001   For week ended March 02, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 06Mar01

By Kent Larsen

Church Tells King County: Rural Limits Unconstitutional

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON -- At the request of Elder Gordon Conger, an Area Authority Seventy in the Seattle area, the LDS Church asked its principal outside law firm, Kirton &McConkie, to review the county's attempt to limit the size of Church buildings in the county's rural areas, and learned that the attempt is unconstitutional. The review and its resulting six-page legal analysis came in response to King County Executive Ron Sims' proposal that nonresidential buildings outside the county's urban-growth boundary be limited to no more than 10,000 square feet.

Sims made the proposal last year, and churches in the Seattle area have fought back against the proposal, arguing that the limits would keep them from serving rural populations and limit their freedom of worship. Sims propose the size cap to protect rural areas from suburbanization.

As previously reported in Mormon News, the proposal led the county to put a 10-month moratorium on new buildings outside the urban-growth boundary. The LDS Church has participated in the opposition to the plan, although Church officials say that they currently have no immediate building plans in the area. The Seattle Times does quote Conger as saying the Chruch is considering a stake center in rural Snoqualmie Valley. LDS stake centers are generally 20,000 square feet or more, well above Sims' proposed limit.

Kirton &McConkie's analysis indicates that the proposed size limits would be unconstitutional, under both the US constitution and the Washington state constitution. It also cites a recent federal law, proposed by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and signed into law by President Bill Clinton last September, which seeks to protect churches from the use of zoning laws to discriminate against them.

But while the LDS Church is suggesting that the proposed limit might be successfully challenged in court, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, has backed away from its earlier opposition to the proposal. The Council's board adopted a statement in November urging the county not to impose the proposed limits, but last month it dropped that call, and instead urged the County Council to "regulate urban and rural growth while also recognizing the reasonable needs of religious institutions to build adequate facilities." Church Council president-director Thomas Quigley said the change comes because the churches also recognize the need to protect rural areas from sprawl, "Those are competing values," he said, "and they both have significant support in the church community."

Source: Mormons join foes of rural limits Seattle Times 2Mar01 T1 By Eric Pryne: Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle Times 2Mar01 T1
By Eric Pryne: Seattle Times staff reporter


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